African Union Vows More Attacks as al-Shabaab Base Bombed

The African Union mission in Somalia said it’s planning further attacks on al-Shabaab bases after Kenya’s air force bombed a camp used to train militants who attacked a Nairobi shopping mall in September.

A “major aerial offensive” destroyed a training camp at Hurguun, about 220 kilometers (137 miles) west of the capital, Mogadishu, which had more than 300 recruits of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group, the Kenya Defence Forces said in a statement. An unspecified number of militants were killed and “many others” were injured, it said.

Targeting remaining al-Shabaab locations will complement efforts already underway by Somalia’s government “as well as deny al-Shabaab freedom of movement and further reduce their ability to perpetrate attacks against the civilians in Somalia and the region,” the African Union mission, known as Amisom, said in a statement late yesterday.

African Union forces are stepping up their offensive after al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya’s capital on Sept. 21, killing 67 civilians and security personnel. The Islamists threatened retaliation against Kenya after the East African nation sent its forces into southern Somalia in 2011, blaming the militants for a series of kidnappings and the murder of a British tourist.

Yesterday’s air raid followed an Oct. 28 attack near the town of Jilib, about 330 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu, in which Abdullahi Ali, an al-Shabaab commander also known as Ante Ante, and Abdi Fatah were killed, the Kenyan military said. The Somali government said the two men were killed in a U.S. drone attack and that Ante Ante specialized in bomb making.

Stabilizing Somalia

“Operations of this nature will be sustained into the future, and form part of a broader Amisom effort in stabilizing Somalia,” the KDF said.

Attacks by the African Union-led forces may help to disorganize al-Shabaab operations by putting “pressure on them internally and making them preoccupied with survival and not only planning attacks,” Emmanuel Kisiangani, a Nairobi-based researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said today in a phone interview.

“This may however work only in the short-run, because in the past, we have seen al-Shabaab adapting to pressure,” he said. “When they were forced out of Mogadishu and Kismayo, we thought they were constrained in different ways, including financially, but they got other sources of funding, and still managed to carry out new attacks.”

Protect Civilians

Somalia welcomes any military campaign targeting al-Shabaab as long as innocent people are protected, Abdurahman Omar Osman, a government spokesman, said today in an interview. “They should also take care of civilians,” he said.

In the past two years, Somali government troops backed by about 17,000 African Union personnel have pushed al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu, the port of Kismayo and other major towns. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud’s year-old government is the first to receive U.S. recognition in two decades and in September received pledges of 1.8 billion euros ($2.4 billion) in aid from European countries.

Witnesses said more than one target was struck in the air raid, including in the Rama Aday neighborhood of the southwestern Somali town of Dinsoor. Madey Ali, a resident, said in a phone interview that civilians who had gathered there to listen to a sermon were among those killed. Borow Mohamed, another local resident, said by phone that there’s a large al-Shabaab training camp in Rama Aday, though he said he saw civilians among the dead.

Amisom said the operations in Somalia come after “extensive surveillance and intelligence in order to minimize the chances of causing civilian casualties.” Four combat vehicles and a weapons store at the base were destroyed in the air raid, according to the KDF.

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